The chronic pain of fibromyalgia is thought to affect one in 20 people worldwide but there is no known cause or cure. It often goes hand in hand with fatigue and sleep problems, headaches, depression and irritable bowel and bladder problems. Treatment is based around pain management and lifestyle changes.
Alcohol is reported to have both positive and negative effects on health. Moderate drinking is thought to reduce risks of cardiovascular disease especially when in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle, regular exercise and not smoking.
Researchers from the Mayo clinic in the US and the University of Michigan surveyed patients with fibromyalgia to examine the association between alcohol and their severity of symptoms and quality of life.
Low and moderate drinkers had better scores for physical function, ability to work, the number of work days missed, fatigue and pain, than people who abstained.
Moderate drinkers who had between three and seven standard drinks a week seemed to have less pain than low or heavy drinkers, even when the results were controlled for confounding factors.
A standard drink is equivalent to 12 American oz / 355ml (1.25 units) of beer, 5 oz/ 148ml of wine (1.8 units), or 1.5 oz/ 44ml (1.8 units) of distilled spirits. Similar results were seen for the quality of life scale including social functioning, vitality and general health.
Discussing why moderate drinking may have this effect Dr Terry Oh, who led this study said, "Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA), an inhibitory neurotransmitter, is low in the brain in fibromyalgia, which may go some way to explain why the nervous system reaction to pain is amplified. Alcohol binds to the GABA receptor in the central nervous system that in turn may turn down pain transmission. However the effects of alcohol may also be due to improved mood, socialization and tension, and while moderate drinkers have fewer symptoms there are still many questions about how this happens."
The study was published in BioMed Central's open access journal Arthritis Research and Therapy.